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Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner

Habitually, man establishes an ordered relationship with the world and himself through thought. He sees, muses, experiments (formally or through everyday experience) and draws conclusions relevant to his needs. But his thoughts are completely conditioned by his senses and his senses are completely conditioned by his anatomy and physiology, and therefore even his thoughts about anatomy and physiology are conditioned by this circuitous route. In this sense, thinking is chained to our physical-sensory make-up and can never convey a true or objective reality about the world or ourselves. At most it can convey definable relationships between our various sensory experiences and out of this grows science and technology.

But thought can follow another course. Steiner became acutely aware that in the study of pure mathematics, something is being undertaken which is not conditioned by an unascertainable physiology and anatomy. In mathematics we are directly observing the laws of quantitative relationship, which we can then apply to our sensory world and find that they also hold good for that world. These laws exist, and though we have to have a functioning brain, nervous system, etc. to apprehend them, they themselves are not the result of any physiological process. They exist within their own right and apply as soundly in the phenomenal world as they do within the realm of thought. This opened the door for him to what he later called "sense-free thinking".





excerpts from The Story Of My Life by Rudolf Steiner, read by Dale Brunsvold
Part 1 (1:55)
Part 2 (4:29)
Part 3 (3:35)
Part 4 (5:38)
Part 5 (7:34)
Part 6 (3:10)
Part 7 (7:10)
Part 8 (2:06)

Robert Lawrence

Young Steiner was deeply introverted; as he admits in his Autobiography (1925), he had great difficulty relating to the outer world. He also had an inquisitive mind and was obsessed with many questions the adults he knew seemed unable to answer. This subjectivity might have taken a morbid turn were it not for his discovery of mathematics. When Steiner came upon a book of geometry, it was a revelation. "That one can work out forms which are seen purely inwardly, independent of the outer senses, gave me a feeling of deep contentment. I found consolation for the loneliness caused by the many unanswered questions. To be able to grasp something purely spiritual brought me an inner joy. I know that through geometry I first experienced happiness."

Steiner's joy upon discovering geometry may strike us as odd, yet the experience was essential in getting him through an early crisis. What impressed Steiner so greatly about geometry was that it seemed to offer proof that within the mind there existed a kind of "soul-space," an inner equivalent of the external space of the natural world.

Gary Lachman

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Biography of Rudolf Steiner up to the year 1900. All quotes from Rudolf Steiner are in blue italic.

Childhood and Adolescents

25 February 1861

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was born in Kraljevec, an insignificant Hungarian village in what is now Northern Croatia. So it came that he was born in a Slav environment and not in a German-speaking one, a fact which he considered essential for his life's work.
He was the first-born child of the railway telegrapher Johann Steiner and his wife Franciska, Blie by maiden name.
He received Roman Catholic baptism two days later. This is why the 27th of February 1861 commonly has been considered to be his birthday.

It was mainly his mother, a quiet friendly woman, who looked after him in the first years of his life.
His father was often doing a shift for three days and nights in a row, relieved of his duties for 24 hours in a state of total exhaustion.


When Rudolf Steiner was 1½ years old, his father was transferred to Moedling near Vienna.


Rudolf Steiner 1867
Rudolf Steiner (right) with his sister Leopoldine in the year 1867.

Six month later, the father took up a position as station Manager in Pottschach on the Semmerling line - which for those days was one of the technological most advanced railways.
To the end of his life Rudolf Steiner looked at that period with joy and gratitude.
It was also in this period that Rudolf Steiner's sister Leopoldine (1864 - 1924) and his brother Gustav (1866 - 1941) were born.

The scenes amidst which I passed my childhood were marvellous. The prospect embraced the mountains linking Lower Austria with Styria.
I lived in this area from the age of two to the age of eight. The most beautiful landscape embedded my childhood.

In contrast to this experience of nature stands the fact that the environment in which he grew up was dominated by his father's employment. The family lived in the station house, directly in front of the railway tracks.


Rudolf Steiner's early clairvoyant experiences must have lead to a feeling of isolation. He described only the first of theses events:

My mother's sister who lived in some distance from our family home committed suicide. Nobody knew about this at the time and my parents didn't have any message about the tragic death. I saw in a vision the whole event whilst sitting in the station's waiting room. Later I made some remarks when my parents were around. Their reaction was to say: "You are a stupid boy".
Some days later I noticed when my father becoming very thoughtful whilst reading a letter he had received. Another couple of days later he talked alone with my mother. My mother cried for days after this conversation.

It was only some years later when I was informed about the tragic death of my aunt.

For the boy this was the beginning of a living in the soul.

I distinguished between things and beings "one can see" and such "one can't see"


Rudolf Steiner was eight years old when his father was transferred to Neudoerfl in Hungary, now part of Lower Austria. The family lived a isolated live troubled by sorrow for his younger brother Gustav who turned out to be hearing-impaired, dumb, and learning disabled.

It was only through long walks in the surrounding area that the young Rudolf Steiner got to know the inhabitants of the village. The Monks of a nearby monastery particularly fascinated him:

It was at the age of nine when the idea established in my mind that there must be important things I have to learn about in context of the tasks of these monks.

Rudolf Steiner's childhood was influenced by many unanswered questions he carried within himself:
Yes, these questions about all kind of things made me a lonely boy.


He visited the village school in Neudorfle until 1972. He remained an outsider and never integrated in the class community: In autumn, everyone would just talk about who harvested how many nuts. The one with the biggest bounty would be the person with the highest status. I found myself at the bottom of this hierarchy. Being the 'foreigner in the village' I had no right to be part of this pecking order.

Guidance and help for Rudolf Steiner came through an assistant teacher at the school in Neudoerfl. It was not the man's outstanding teaching skills that were helpful; through this teacher Rudolf Steiner had access to a geometry book, which he was allowed to study in depth for many weeks:

As a child, I felt, without of course expressing it to myself clearly, that knowledge of the spiritual world is something to be grasped in the mind in the same way as geometrical concepts.

To understand concepts that are of a pure spiritual nature gave me inner contentment. I know it was through geometry when I experienced happiness for the first time.

Beside the assistant teacher it was the priest who made a lasting impression on the 10-year-old boy.
Once he came to the school, gathered a group of the more mature students, which I was considered to belong to, in his little study and explained the Copernican system (…). I was completely taken in by the whole thing (....).

Through the station's telegraph I learned the theory, principles and laws of electricity. Still a boy I learned how to use the telegraph machine.

Following this are the first studies of History, Literature and Mathematics.

October: pupil at the secondary modern school (Realschule) in Wiener - Neustadt. Steiner perceives the orderliness and transparency in the scientific and mathematical disciplines as invigorating in view of his first super sensible and childhood clairvoyant experiences whose unfamiliarity triggered many questions.


Summer: Rudolf Steiner teaches himself shorthand.

Autumn: I gave extra lessons to fellow pupils… The College of Teachers gladly supported this by sending me students since I was considered a 'good pupil'.


Study of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason during mind-numbing history lessons.


Rudolf Steiner 1879
Rudolf Steiner 1879

July: Steiner passes his school living examination with distinction.

August: His father's transferred to Inzersdorf near Vienna to enable the 18-year-old Steiner to study at the Polytechnic. Self study of Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Fichte, Darwin and others. The study of Fichte inspires Steiner to first philosophical essays.

The years as a student in Vienna


October, 1879: Begin a study course of 8 Terms at the Polytechnic in Vienna, financial support through a student grant. As bread study he decides to aim for secondary school teacher. Nevertheless he visits a variety of philosophical lectures.

At the time I felt obliged to find the truth through philosophy. Whilst most of the people in his environment regard philosophy as something abstract, for Steiner the spiritual world is a 'visible' reality. And this is how my view of the spiritual world was received in most places. No one wanted to hear about it.

History of physics, physics, chemistry, mechanics, geology, mineral logy, botany, mathematics, literature and history of literature, politics, zoology, medicine, philosophy are a selection of the of the areas Steiner chose to study. He passed the exams in these disciplines with excellence or distinction.

As a penny-less student coming from the country side Steiner found his way into the life of Vienna only step by step and not in all areas. He had no access to the circles of the aristocracy entrepreneurs, industrial workers or the world of opera or big society events.
Rudolf Steiner fulfilled his until now unsatisfied thirst for pure music that wants to be nothing but music by visiting concerts and chamber music. Beethoven became his favoured composer, the deadly boring music Wagner's resenting as barbaric.

He followed the political life by visiting public parliament sessions and he also becomes member of a politically orientated student organisation.
The sad destiny of some of his fellow students showed him how the dominating public spirit at the time caused strong feelings of hopelessness and pessimism destroyed many lives. At the time all this could be experienced as the seed that later in Austria lead to the crumbling of the empire.

Karl Julius Schroer, the professor lecturing German Literature, deeply honoured and admired by him, introduced Steiner in a very special way to the 'German Classic' generally and especially to Goethe. For all his life Steiner looked at Goethe as a great personality and idol for the people of his time.

In addition he was engaged with philosophical questions and increasingly with questions regarding the theory of recognition, inspired by Fichte's research regarding the relationship between spirit (I) and nature

Through his intensive work on Schelling's contemplations about the essence of a human being, certainty grows within him regarding the ability, to see the eternal within us in the form of the unchangeable (quotation by Schelling).

Steiner reports about this time (he was 21):

A spiritual view appeared in front of my me that was not based on a dark mystical emotions.
It rather was a spiritual activity fully comparable in it's clarity to the thinking in mathematical terms.
I approached a condition of mind that gave me the certainty that I would be able to justify the view of the spiritual world I carried within me in the light of modern scientific thinking.


Rudolf Steiner 1882
Rudolf Steiner as a student in 1882

Autumn: Prof Joseph Kurschner invites Steiner on recommendation by Prof. Karl Julius Schroer, to edit Goethe's scripts about natural science within 'German National Literature' edited by Kurschner.
For Steiner this means the beginning of 1½ decades of Goethe research.


October: Steiner leaves the Polytechnic without final exam and without finishing his studies despite having successfully past all intermediate examinations. His hope was to lay the foundation for a career in literary studies with his work about Goethe's natural science scripts. This hope was not fulfilled.

The last years in Vienna (1884 - 1890)


The literature experts positively acknowledge the First volume of Goethe's Scripts About Natural Science, first published in March.

April: On request Kurschner's Steiner agrees to edit articles in the field of mineralogy and later in general natural science in Kurschner's Conversation Dictionary.

June: Steiner is entrusted with the role of an educator in the household of Ladislaus Specht. This is an important practical educational task that becomes for Steiner a rich source of learning.
He becomes friend with the lady of the house, Pauline Specht. She becomes a confidant with whom he can talk about all the things important to him.
His position gave him time to establish and maintain social contacts and to pursue out his own work and studies.


Study of Eduard von Hartmann's and other philosopher's work.
Rudolf Steiner continues his studies and the editorial work on Goethe's Scripts about Natural Science. Friendship with Radegunde and Walter Fehr.


By making the acquaintance with the poet Marie Eugenie Delle Gracie, a new circle of society opens up to Steiner. Some of the personalities he meets are lecturers of theology at the University of Vienna who recommended to Steiner to study the philosophies of Aristotle and Thomas of Aquinas.

The book Baselines of a Theory of Knowledge of Goethe's Philosophy of life is concluded. It already contains important basic ideas of Steiner's freedom philosophy.

June: Steiner gladly accepts a position offered by the Director of the Goethe Archive in Weimar.


By the beginning of the year severe illness forces Steiner to stop all his activities. The Specht Family however gives all the attention and love he needs for his recovery.

Since summer Steiner thoroughly concerns himself with the questions of aesthetics. He especially studies the philosophical aestheticians of the 19th century, under it Eduard von Hartmann with whom he gets in contact. (by letter).

The book Baselines of a Theory of Knowledge of Goethe's Philosophy of life is praised in professional circles, but also criticised – in a fair way –.

Autumn: The beginning of a friendship with Fritz Lemmermayer, who brings him in contact with numerous poets.


Without neglecting the work he was engaged in previous years, Steiner becomes the editor (informally) for the German Weekly Revue. This gives him the opportunity to discuss publicly questions of politics, literature, philosophy i.e. A review by Steiner of Robert Hamerling's Epos Homunculus, published in the German Weekly Revue, rejected by the majority of readers as a grotesque work of literature, causes astonishment within the Specht family, since the statements regarding the position of Judaism, understood by Steiner in an objective way, have been considered as a special kind of anti-Semitism. This doesn't change his friendly relationship with the Specht family. Hamerling expresses his gratitude for the understanding and the excellent article about 'Homunculus'.


Rudolf Steiner 1889
Rudolf Steiner in the year 1889

In this year it is for the first time that Steiner undertakes extensive travelling. It is also his first journey to Germany. In spring he visits Budapest, Weimar in the summer. His work-schedule for the position at the Goethe-Archive is established during this visit to Weimar. He further travels to Berlin (meeting with Eduard von Hartmann), Stuttgart, Munich and Eisenach. At Christmas he visits Hermannstadt where he also gives some lectures.

For the first time he encounters Nietzsche's Work: 'Beyond Good and Evil' was the first of Nietzsche's books I read. I was at same time captivated and repelled by his views. I found it hard to relate to Nietzsche's way of thinking. I loved his style and courage; what I didn't like at all was the way he talked about the deepest problems without connecting himself with a conscious spiritual experience.

By the end of the year Steiner gets in contact with the Theosophists in Vienna. Although considering the time spent in this circle as valuable throughout, he doesn't really endorse the kind of Theosophy practised, which he characterises as a spiritual weakness that influences the spiritual development in a negative way. Soon afterwards he turns his back to Theosophy and Mystics in order to further his freedom philosophy. Later (1891) he mentioned the mystic element in which I submerged for a while in a disturbing way in Vienna.

At this time questions regarding the riddles of reincarnation take on a more tangible shape. I did struggle with the riddles of repeated lives of a human beings on earth. Some revelations came to me when having met personalities who's habits of live an characters revealed traces of an essence, entity that couldn't possibly be explained by their genetic inheritance and the way life experience has shaped them since they where born.


March: His acquaintance with the poet Rosa Mayreder leads to a deep friendship and a mutual understanding that allows exchanging his freedom philosophical thoughts and ideas. She shares some of his loneliness in which he fell (already at 1882) caused by the deviation of his views from the usual way of thinking. I had nobody at the time I could talk too about my views. Another source of redemption from his loneliness originates Goethe's work in which he finds his own thoughts expressed.

During the summer Steiner starts to work on his Thesis, later extended and published with the title Truth and Science.

September: Steiner moves to Weimar to commence work at the Goethe - Schiller Archive. Weimar will be his residence until 1897.

The Time in Weimar (1890 – 1897)


September: I received a warm welcome.

September 30th: Rudolf Steiner commences his work in the Goethe Archive.


Rudolf Steiner 1891
Rudolf Steiner at the age of 30.

First he appreciated the attractive side of his work: the discovery of new, important or unknown facts. Already in April 1991 it says: The viewing, sorting and classifying in the archive dulls my mind and causes a spiritual discomfort, that almost destroyed any urge to write myself. He considers his Goethe work as a skin, a shell that has become lifeless, and that he wants to leave behind for once. Otherwise my whole existence is going to become a lie and a nuisance: my work and my achievements will not be my own anymore, but those of a miserable puppet.

In October, Steiner begins to work on the Philosophy of Freedom, his major philosophical work.

26th of October: Doctor of Philosophy officially awarded. His thesis, later extended and published under the title: ”Truth and Science”, considered by Steiner as the prelude for a “Philosophy of Freedom”, has the theme: “The basic question of the Science of Cognition in special consideration of Fichte’s Theory of Science”.

November: Steiner studies the philosophy of the middle age, the area in which I considered my knowledge still to be incomplete. Once I feel confident here, the gap between the profound knowledge I have about the ancient time and the newer times will be closed, and only then I may claim to be on solid ground.

December: In a letter to Pauline Specht (Vienna), Steiner characterises the mood caused by the circumstances as so powerful to cause him the feeling of ongoing disgust. His working conditions might have contributed to this feeling – the archive was limited to only a few rooms within the castle of Weimar, and his superior was the pettiest of the pettiest……… a real ‘philister’ with the nature of a ‘schoolmaster’, incapable of taking a wider point of view. – as well as his uncomfortable 2-bedroom flat, and the fact, to have no one with an understanding I could talk with.


January: Today only thing left to say is, that my book (The Philosophy of Freedom) makes good progress. The disposition and the arrangement of the content are now determined. Besides his work in the archive, Steiner is also engaged as a writer. He often writes essays and reviews. Not seldom he criticises in his articles the preaching of moral that is done without any basis of knowledge. Because of this he made himself a number of enemies, but was supported by Ernst Haeckel. His moral views (ethical individualism) may be characterised by the following quotation: A general prescription from the big pharmacy of moral remedies can only be rejected by all those, who really work towards a better future.

At the same time he committed himself to edit the work of Schopenhauer and Jean-Paul for the publishing house Cotta.

By the middle of the year, Steiner moves to a flat at the place of Anna Eunike, soon a close friendship developed. In 1899, Steiner married Anna Eunicke. They were later separated; Anna died in 1911.

December: Steiner explains to Haeckel something that was also significant for all his later work: Since I am a writer, I am fighting against any dualism, and I consider it as a task of philosophy, to justify monism scientifically by means of a strictly positive analysis of our cognitive capacity, and also to proof, that all results gained by natural science are the real truth.


Whilst aiming for a teaching position in philosophy at the Polytechnical School in Vienna with increasing enthusiasm, he continues with the previous’ years activities.
Also Steiner’s popularity as a lecturer grows also in other towns and cities.

On the 15th of June, the election for the ‘Reichstag’ takes place. Steiner comments: I experience the increase in roughness and ignorance that has shown in the last election as really frightening.

After the completion and the publishing of his Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner asks many personalities under his friends and in the circle of professionals for their opinions and for reviews.

December: It is now more than three years since I arrived in Weimar, and in the three summers so much strain was laid on me, not allowing me even two weeks to relax without having to work.


Meeting with Haeckel; beginning of correspondence with him.


Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche asked Steiner to set the Nietzsche archive in Naumburg in order. Förster-Nietzsche introduced Steiner into the presence of the catatonic philosopher and Steiner, deeply moved, subsequently wrote the book Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom.


Steiner left the Weimar archives and moved to Berlin. He became owner, chief editor, and active contributor to the literary journal Magazin für Literatur, where he hoped to find a readership sympathetic to his philosophy. His work in the magazine was not well received by its readership, including the alienation of subscribers following Steiner's unpopular support of Émile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair. The journal lost more subscribers when Steiner published extracts from his correspondence with anarchist writer John Henry Mackay. Dissatisfaction with his editorial style eventually led to his departure from the magazine.


Teacher at the Berlin "Workers' Education School" founded by Social Democrats. (Arbeiter-Bildungsschule).


Beginning of Rudolf Steiner's involvement with the Theosophical Society. Before this, Steiner seemed willing to speak to any group, but now he started to give talks regularly to the members of the Theosophical Society.

Steiner was originally invited to speak to a theosophical gathering in Berlin in 1900. His choice of a theosophical career, after some hesitation (in the course of 1900-02 Steiner applied unsuccessfully for several jobs, including university lecturer and newspaper editor), brought him economic security and a position within a community of like-minded souls. His about-face regarding Theosophy may have involved an urge to teach, and gratitude that at least the theosophists appreciated his abilities. Steiner's increasingly close personal involvement with active theosophist Marie von Sivers, whom he met in 1900 and eventually married, played an important role as well.

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